Saturday, December 31, 2011

Igbos are as Jewish as the "Felashas of Ethiopia In favor of politicizing Jewish identity - Haaretz

Today, Israeli politics - at least in terms of its relationship with the Palestinians - is focused on having them recognize Israel's Jewish character. There are also calls for Israel's non-Jewish citizens to take an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state. Foreign workers are even being portrayed as endangering Israel's Jewishness. So the issue of what the concept of "Jewish" actually refers to is not unimportant.

Let me demonstrate this with an example: One of my doctoral students recently completed research on the Igbo people of Nigeria, many of whom consider themselves Jews, as well as on the futile attempt of a few of their representatives to be recognized as Jews by the Israeli rabbinate - which would make them eligible for aliyah. His study shows that it is ultimately impossible to rationally explain why the Igbos have not been recognized when, in the course of the 20th century, the Ethiopian tribes called Beta Israel received complete recognition of Jewish descent (from one of the Ten Tribes ), and collective resettlement in Israel, beginning in the 1980s.

Actually, the study shows, British rabbis were already aware in the 1840s that there might be descendants of the Ten Tribes in the Niger delta. That was even before the process of the Jewish acceptance of Beta Israel began. Evidently, though, the Igbos, who today number 20-30 million people, would be political and demographic dynamite. Given the sheer number of potential Jews in Nigeria, it is no accident that Israeli authorities are hesitant to act, even as non-Orthodox rabbis from the United States are undertaking full-scale missionary tours among the Igbo.

Given this research, along with the fact that some of the African foreign workers in Israel are Nigerian Igbos who identify strongly with Judaism and with the State of Israel, it seems cynical to confront them not only with a formal denial of their Jewishness, but even with the charge that their presence here is helping to destroy Israel's Jewish character

The steadily growing intensity of concern over both the character of the Jewish state and over the definition of who is Jewish demonstrates how the definition of Jewish affiliation is increasingly escaping the control of those authorities that declare themselves responsible for it. It is now completely unclear which Israeli rabbis recognize which conversions. This is symptomatic of how, in both ethnic and religious contexts, the concept of Jewishness is beginning to break down and to be deconstructed.

Will we be able to solve the problem? The first step toward doing so involves acknowledging the very idea that troubles the Jewish community, obviously in Israel, but probably no less in the Diaspora: admitting that today, at least in Israel, the designation "Jew" is primarily, or even exclusively, political in meaning, and that it should be treated accordingly. For, if being a Jew means having the right to obtain a certain passport and settle in a specific land, both of which would otherwise be out of reach, being accepted as a Jew becomes primarily a political matter.

That may sound shocking at first. But politics is a matter of weighing contradictions and opportunities. It involves the attempt to do justice to as many interest groups as possible. Of course, it is also a matter of consciously accepting that some groups will consider the solutions problematic. Since its policies on which conversions will qualify a candidate for Israeli citizenship are in fact political, the state, as a political entity, should make clear that it is making political decisions and that it is giving a political task to the Rabbinate as both a religious and a governmental institution. Explaining its decisions in any other way actually obscures issues rather than clarifying them, and in the long run, they would lead to serious problems with the legitimacy of a "Jewish state" and undermine contemporary Judaism even more than the serious internal tensions already threatening to tear Judaism apart. Such a move by the Israeli government would doubtlessly constitute a paradigm change.

Terminologically, this could be expressed in a distinction between a "denominational Judaism" and a "Judaism relevant to the state." This distinction could be autonomously defined by political bodies. Of course, those bodies are themselves partly dependent on religious parties and powers - nevertheless, the discourse would remain a formal political discourse, and people (for example, Russian immigrants without Jewish mothers and without controversial conversions ) could also be seen as Jews in the state's sense without having to be denominational Jews. This might open the door, for example, to the burial in Jewish cemeteries of fallen Israel Defense Forces soldiers with non-Jewish mothers.

As for such peoples as the Igbos, as denominational Jews, they could undergo conversions from the rabbinical side (giyur lehumra ) without necessarily receiving any civil rights. This could uncramp and facilitate the acceptance of people's claim to Jewishness. If need be, denominational Jews could be granted simplified residency and work permits, but not an immediate claim to citizenship.

These ideas are a first, still quite rudimentary formulation of a procedure that could bring more honesty and sustainability into a contemporary world where the concept of the "nation" no longer seems capable of properly delineating the frames of affiliation with Judaism. It will still take a great deal of thinking to test whether and how such a practice could be realized. My aim here is to describe it as a conceivable way out of an increasingly unsustainable muddle.

Alfred Bodenheimer is professor of Jewish studies at the University of Basel.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mary: Ark of the New Covenant | The Roman Catholic Parish of Saint Charles Borromeo | Peoria AZ


'via Blog this'

Ethiopian Hebrews "Netanyahu, let our people come! - JPost

Orthodox/Copt Christian Asylum Seekers Celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem

Every year on the eve of January 6th, which marks Christmas for Coptic Christians, hundreds of North African refugees, based in Israel, make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to visit Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity for mass.
Last year I, being the only visible journalist and non-refugee, was fortunate enough to join this unique group of people on their journey, which began at approximately 10 p.m., when hundreds of African refugees filed into roughly 15 buses parked at Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv's south end, and ended at 5 a.m.
These refugees, who fled their countries, mostly due to religious persecution, after an unspeakable journey through North Africa, have ended up in Israel and are mostly Christians. Israel has a liberal policy on taking in refugees compared to its neighbor, Egypt. It is not uncommon for refugees to be kidnapped or murdered while making a journey through the North African countries or be killed on the borders of Egypt.
The pilgrims listened to loud religious music with origins from Eritrea and Ethiopia as the buses made their way through East Jerusalem and swiftly past the checkpoints into Bethlehem, which was completely open to the group -- not making us stop on the way in or out of the West Bank. On any other day, crossing into the West Bank can be a very long process and access is not guaranteed.
Upon arrival, Bethlehem was filled with festive Christmas lights decorated on every structure in sight while armed guards with machine guns lined the roads dressed in all black. The guards were placed every 100 feet or so starting more than a mile before the city center, Manger Square.
Once parked the refugees filled the streets of Bethlehem while vendors became very excited by the sight of visitors, trying to sell little wooden figurines and falafel balls.
Eventually all the festivities began in Manger Square with drum beating and loud prayers on intercom systems. Christmas was undoubtedly in the air this evening in Bethlehem, more than any other day.
Eventually, many people started showing up in fancy cars, and motorcades sped through the tiny streets of the Old City. These motorcades, were likely filled with diplomats and significant religious figures such as the Greek Patriarch, Syrian Archbishop, Coptic Archbishop and the Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch and All The East. Very few refugees made it into the Church, because the Church was filled with what could be perceived as 'preferred visitors.' Of all days, this was an unfortunate sight on Christmas. The African Refugees were visually the largest group of people present in Bethlehem, while they were the least represented within the Church of Nativity.
Even though being denied entrance after their long journey, the Coptic Christians from Eritrea and Ethiopia sang louder, kept smiling and celebrated near to one of the holiest place in their religion.
According to attendees, for many, this was the first time in a long while that they were able to celebrate their faith in public -- without fear of persecution.
Below are some photographs of the Christmas celebration in Bethlehem:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ark of Covenant 'to be revealed' after leaking roof in Ethiopian chapel | Mail Online

Will this be the first time the world sees the Ark of Covenant? Leaking roof in Ethiopian chapel 'will lead to relic being revealed'

  • Ark contains Ten Commandments God 'gave' to Moses on Mount Sinai
  • One holy monk is the only person allowed to see the holy box...
  • ...but he'll need a hand carrying metre long wooden structure to new home


Last updated at 5:58 AM on 5th December 2011

A very British problem of a leaky church roof could be about to give the world the chance to glimpse the legendary Ark of the Covenant.

That's because the claimed home of the iconic relic - a small chapel in Ethiopia - has sprung a leak and so the Ark could now be on the move.

The Ark - which The Bible says holds God's Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai - is said to have been kept in Aksum, in the Chapel of the Tablet, adjacent to St Mary of Zion Church, since the 1960s.

According to the Old Testament, it was first kept in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem for centuries until a Babylonian invasion in the 6th century BC.

The Chapel of the Tablet in Ethiopia that has the leaking roof. The St Mary of Zion church can be seen in the foreground

Leaking roof: The Chapel of the Tablet in Ethiopia that holds the Ten Commandments and has the water damage. The St Mary of Zion church, that originally held the tablet, can be seen in the foreground

Since then it's been the goal of many adventurers and archaeologists to find it. Most-famously, but also fictitiously, Indiana Jones was shown in the 1981 Steven Spielberg film Raiders of the Lost Ark.

There has also been a long-running claim from the Orthodox Christians of Ethiopia that they have had the Ark for centuries, and since the 1960s it has apparently been kept in the chapel.

This small and curiously-styled building is surrounded by spiked iron railings, and situated between two churches, the old and new, of St Mary of Zion in central Aksum.

No one has been allowed to see the holy object, described in scripture as being made from acacia wood, plated with gold and topped with two golden angels, except one solitary elderly monk, who must watch over the Ark for the remainder of his life, and is never allowed to leave the chapel grounds.

But now the chapel - which was designed by the Ethiopian leader Emperor Hailie Selassie - has had to be covered in a tarpaulin to stop rain getting in.

The water damage could mean the Ark will be moved for the first time in decades giving religious worshippers and adventurers alike a chance to see it.

British photographer Tim Makins, 54, who is a travel photographer for publications like Lonely Planet, discovered the church had sprung a leak whilst travelling through Ethiopia last September.

Workmen clear the ground adjacent to the Chapel of the Tablet
Paintings in the old church of St Mary of Zion and the covered entrance to the inner chapel

Holy work: Workmen clear the ground adjacent to the Chapel of the Tablet. Right, Paintings in the old church of St Mary of Zion and the covered entrance to the inner chapel

He believes the moving of the Ark could be one of the best ways to discover if there's any truth in the claims of the East African state.

Tim said: 'During my most recent visit to the church, I was surprised to see some ground adjacent to the ''Chapel of the Tablet'' being cleared and levelled by workmen, and some quantities of building stone being assembled nearby.

'Asking around, I managed to discover that a new temporary chapel is due to be built, and the Ark is to be moved into it while the original chapel is repaired.

'It seems that the builders of the 1960s were not as careful as the builders of centuries past, and the roof of the chapel has developed some serious leaks that now need comprehensive repair work.

Sought after: Indiana Jones, right, carries away the glistening Ark of the Covenant in the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark by Steven Spielberg

Sought after: Indiana Jones, right, carries away the glistening Ark of the Covenant in the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark by Steven Spielberg

'To protect the Ark, a tarpaulin now covers the roof of the chapel but this is just a temporary measure.

'To renovate the building thoroughly, the roof must be stripped back to the bare bones and so a replacement chapel is to be built next door providing a temporary home for it.'

Tim said the construction of the new temporary chapel would take about three months according to workers and religious figures at the site, though he suspects that it will probably take much longer.

He added: 'When the work is finished, the Ark of the Covenant will be carried to its new resting place.'

'That this can be done by the one person allowed to see it is unlikely, as The Bible describes the size of the Ark as 2.5 cubits in length, 1.5 in breadth, and 1.5 in height.

'Cubits in today's measurements translate to about 1.31 metres x 0.79m x 0.79m and it is normally carried on two long wooden poles.

'If it really is this size, and still contains the two stone tablets that list God's Ten Commandments, then the elderly monk will no doubt need some help to transport it.'

Read more: